Stephen Logan

Is Online Censorship a Good Thing?

11th Oct 2011 News, Industry News 3 minutes to read

Censorship is a subject that always divides opinions. Some see it as a protective barrier between the general public and indecency, others as a form of unnecessary outside intervention.

When Google deliberately flouted censorship rules in China, they were promptly booted out of the country. Australia has been slowly moving towards ratifying a policy to prevent its citizens from viewing particular content, most notably adult material – although this hasn’t proved popular with all, including the US. Now it appears that the UK might be next to follow suit, albeit with the option to opt-in.

Whilst oppressive regimes go to extraordinary lengths to prevent ‘dangerous’ or ‘subversive’ content from being shown (i.e. news about oppression), democratic societies have largely steered clear of any such intervention. The current proposal – and it is only a proposal at this stage – here in Britain though would see broadband providers offering customers the opportunity to opt-out (or opt-in, depending on which report you read) from accessing pornography.

There are some would still call this censorship, it is a very diluted form. The saving grace for many is that it isn’t going to be state-led and will therefore fall under the jurisdiction of Internet providers. Equally, customers will only be asked once (when setting up the account) and have the choice to opt-in or not. Presumably they will also then have the option to change their mind if they wish later on too.

So what’s the problem?

Even watered down censorship contains that most loaded and emotive word. There are so many controls that you can apply yourself, including parental locks on Internet browsers, that many deem it unnecessary to apply any form of external filter.  The Internet was developed as a free resource, so why are we looking to cut out specific content?

As with the Australian proposition, the big issue appears to be the ready availability of pornography that is now available online and the effect this has on children. It’s certainly difficult to argue with the dangers of this and other explicit content. So why would anyone want to keep this kind of material and ensure that it remains accessible to all?

Well, it’s a freedom of choice issue. Whilst those defending the right to access may have no desire to actually see the content on a personal level, they believe that others should have the choice. However, as previously mentioned, where this particular issue isn’t being passed down as government legislation or strictly enforced, the impact and reaction to it is likely to be more muted.

However, some may worry that this could set a precedent. Due to the furore that censorship has caused elsewhere and the coverage that any attempts to apply filters have already had, it is unlikely that any such universal will be made that curtails access – particularly now that the Internet is perceived as a human right by the UN. However, educating people on effective self-censorship might well provide the best solution.

As adults, we can make the decision about what we choose to view. However, we can also ensure that any children or impressionable users are kept away from anything that could be deemed inappropriate. Internet providers, browsers and even operating systems provide numerous layers of control to allow you to limit accessibility. By increasing awareness of these controls and how to use them, we can take responsibility and prevent (or at least make it very difficult) for children to access adult material.

Any censorship over and above this could certainly create a backlash. Illegal material should be targeted and removed, as it is currently, whilst everything else should remain in the public domain. Broadband level opt-in is somewhere in the middle, hence the kerfuffle, but certainly isn’t something to be overly concerned about.

But whether you think censorship is needed or not will be entirely down to personal opinion. And there are certainly plenty of people with big opinions on the matter. Feel free to leave yours in the box below.

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